Foreigner and non-native speaker. Can I be a journalist in the UK?

I might have mentioned a few times that I plan to be a full time journalist. I am a non-native English speaker and have faced a few obstacles whilst looking for jobs in the UK. I did my undergraduate degree in journalism and masters degree in environmental communications, but I have been unsuccessful in finding communications jobs here.

I don’t know if my failure to get jobs in journalism has anything to do with me being a non-native or an immigrant, but because employers never tell applicants why they fail, there is this room for doubt.

I have been asked about my ethnicity in a job interview. I have been asked where I come from. Where my home is. I have been asked whether my English is good enough for a journalist.

“I can see that your spoken English is brilliant but how can I know how well you write?”

I guess you never know how well one writes unless you read some of their work. But it hurt that the editor linked this particular question about my writing skills to my ethnicity and home country.

These kind of situations are on a grey area. Of course an editor can require a journalist to have good communications skills. Of course it is normal to be curious about someone’s background. But should they ask? And if they ask, can I refuse to answer? Am I not hiding vital information if I don’ tell them that I come from a different country?

This made me wonder what other people might think about this. I interviewed other young non-native journalists as well as some professionals and experts and wrote a piece for Journo Resources about the problems non-natives may face in the UK and how bilingualism can be useful. The full article is available here.

The fact that many employers still advertise jobs for native speakers is sad. It doesn’t matter if the employer means “native-speaker or similar” to mean that you speak the language fluently, it still makes some of us non-native speakers feel like we shouldn’t even apply for the role.

Fortunately there are some possible benefits for being a bilingual which can be useful in journalism or in life in general. Of course, it is not guaranteed that every person speaking two or more languages will have superpowers, but there might be small benefits in bilingualism. Being more aware of other cultures and customs is one box easily ticked, especially if you are also bicultural. Learning to live in a different culture forces to look at things from new perspectives. I definitely have had to adjust a lot whilst adapting to new places, languages (or dialects) and cultures.

3 thoughts on “Foreigner and non-native speaker. Can I be a journalist in the UK?

  1. Those questions don’t feel right. Are they even legal? At least here in the States, we have found one huge benefit of not being a native speaker. We understand different accents and differently pronounced English much much better than native speakers. The people who have spoken only American English, and especially people who have never traveled abroad, do not seem to have the skills to understand different accents. It is sometimes funny to observe. Also, non-native speakers emphasize the words differently from the native speakers, and they can get severely confused. You know, thermometer and extraordinary as examples. So yes, non-native speakers do have superpowers what comes to English. Imagine the benefit of it with the interviews etc.

    Would this be a skill to add to the LinkedIn profile? 😀


    • You are right, those questions can get the employer in trouble. But, like some of the people I chatted to whilst writing the article, pointed out, often these recruiters are just curious like any other person who sees that a foreigner has moved to their little village. So the questions are not always meant to be discriminative, which makes it really tricky.

      Liked by 1 person

    • Oh yeah, I too have noticed that foreign speakers understand each other better. We can guess what the other meant to say even if they pronounced it wrong or used a wrong word. I mean, if someone talks about a building and uses a word “widow” it is obvious that they meant to say “window”, you don’t have to ask them to repeat the sentence to get that.

      Liked by 1 person

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s